I keep missing the best time to visit Filoli gardens and historic mansion, despite living 10 minutes away. The San Francisco historic house has stood in the peninsula suburb of Woodside for more than a century. So I figured I could stretch out my visit, but two and a half years on, I wish I’d gotten there much sooner.

Apart from being a family estate for two prominent San Francisco families over the years, Filoli features 16 acres of gardens that range from English-style enclosed grounds, complete with hedges, to fields full of wildflowers.

Not only is the estate now owned by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, but it’s also a California Historical Landmark and listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The country home, gardens and surrounding trails are open to the public year round, but when is the best time to visit Filoli gardens?

Best Time to Visit Filoli Gardens

The good news is that there’s always something beautiful to see at the Filoli estate. Like many other San Franciscans, I visited in late March to experience the spring blooms over a beautiful, sunny Easter day.

Flowers blooming at Filoli

The best time to visit Filoli gardens for me was definitely the spring time.

It was an experience to wander through acres of gardens filled with so many gorgeous blooms and enjoy the warmth of the spring sun. But, like I said, it felt like half of San Francisco was there with me.

It’s difficult to get photos devoid of hoards of people, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But if you’d like a more laid-back visit without the crowds, I’d recommend holding off over the spring period.

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As you’ve probably guessed, the best time to visit Filoli all depends on the experience you want to have. I chose spring for the flowers, but I’m also keen to visit during winter because of a relatively new attraction called Holidays at Filoli

During the Christmas season, the house and gardens are especially lit and the house tour includes stories of Christmas traditions held at the home for almost 60 years. If you have children, they’ll be excited to get a visit from Santa or Mrs Claus to read a story. Plus there’s holiday entertainment and a wine bar to sample.

If you’re in the Bay Area, I’d recommend returning to Filoli gardens & mansion for Christmas.

You can find out more about Holidays at Filoli and other awesome Christmas activities in San Francisco in the linked post.

As for the summer months, they’re a perfect time to walk the Estate Trail loop to get a better idea of the land that the estate occupies. Just bring some water to sip on the way. The one mile loop is very accessible to people of all fitness levels and will teach you a little about the San Andreas Fault as you walk over the American and Pacific tectonic plates.

Autumn rivals the spring not only in beauty but also in colour. There are plenty of trees throughout the estate, ranging from towering behemoths to smaller saplings that will turn shades of orange, yellow and brown before creating a crunchy carpet beneath your feet.

Filoli Gardens & Mansion Frequently Asked Questions

There are a few questions about the Filoli estate that come up again and again. So here are the answers for you in one spot!

What is Filoli?

First we’ve got to start with ‘who dreamed up Filoli?’ It all comes down to William Bowers Bourn II, who ran the Empire Mine (now a historic state park) after his father’s untimely death.

It became one of California’s largest, deepest and, most importantly, richest gold mines although things weren’t looking very promising at the time of William Bowers Bourn I’s death.

Filoli Flowers

His son developed the struggling mine and the families vineyards. California natives might already be familiar with another arm of Bowers Bourn II’s business – the Pacific Gas & Electric company.

He was the original founder and president of the company and also founded the Spring Valley Water Company, which provided water to the city and its surrounds.

You can see where this is all headed. Bowers Bourn II and his wife Agnes were basically swimming in money, so they decided to begin building a home on an estate with their lifelong friend and the architect of their other homes – Willis Polk.

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Work on the country house spanned 1915-1917 and the house was modeled on one called Muckross, that the couple had purchased in Ireland for their daughter Maud and her husband as a wedding gift six years earlier. The gardens were developed over the next 11 years.

What does Filoli stand for?

That’s easy (not really). Bowers Bourn II took it from the first two letters of each word in his personal motto – Fight, Love, Live.

His full motto was actually Fight for a just cause, Love your fellow man; Live a good life. They’re not bad words to live live by, if you think about it, and the perfect way to encapsulate his life’s work in one word.

Is Filoli garden free?

Orange and white tulips in a formal garden

Unfortunately, Filoli garden is not free. During COVID-19, you need to purchase your tickets online through the Filoli website

Admission prices for Filoli garden are $20 for adults, $15 for seniors 65 and over, $10 for children between 5-17, and free for children under 5. Students, teachers, and military admission is $15.

Is Filoli Garden open during COVID-19?

Both Filoli Gardens and Filoli Mansion are now open to visitors. Daily capacity to Filoli gardens is capped to ensure that visitors are able to social distance safely, so be sure to book ahead to avoid disappointment.

Visitors must wear masks at all times, including while taking photographs, and must practice social distancing of at least 6ft between groups. Picnics are only allowed in the designated picnic area on site. 

You’ll also have to follow a one-way route around the gardens to help alleviate any bottlenecks and ensure social distancing.

Is Filoli dog friendly?

Filoli Gardens pond and formal gardens

You cannot bring your dog to Filoli, and please do not bring them for the drive and leave them in the parking lot. A shady spot is not guaranteed for your vehicle and your pet will get hot waiting for you.

Service animals are allowed into Filoli as long as they are kept on a leash.

What movies were filmed at Filoli?

You might recognize Filoli from somewhere. Maybe you’re not sure where you’ve seen it before. Well it was featured on the 1980s TV show Dynasty, and is shown in the opening credits and some establishing shots as the Carrington Mansion.

It was also the location for filming of some scenes for the films The Joy Luck Club, Rent, The Wedding PlannerThe Game, Heaven Can Wait, What Dreams May Come, Dying Young, and George of the Jungle.

Can you picnic at Filoli?

You can bring a picnic to enjoy at Filoli, but you won’t be able to eat it within the gardens or on the Estate Trail because of COVID-19 protocols. 

There is a designated picnic area near the main parking lot where you can spread out a blanket and enjoy a meal. Just remember that you can’t bring your own alcohol onto the property.

Filoli Gardens Visiting Details

Address: 86 Canada Road, Woodside, CA, 94062
Hours: 10am-5pm Tuesday to Sunday
Admission: Adult $20, Child (between 5 and 17) $10, Senior (over 65), teachers, students, and military $15
Phone: 650-364-8300

Best things to see at Filoli Gardens & Mansion

Now that we’ve got the questions out of the way, here are the highlights of the Filoli Gardens & Mansion. 

Tour Filoli Mansion 

If all of the above hasn’t quite convinced you, there’s still plenty more reasons to visit Filoli gardens and mansion.

The facade of Filoli

Filoli House is basically a mansion, and combines a few styles of architecture. Picture: Filoli

It’s a little bit difficult to classify the Filoli house as a certain style of architecture, since Willis Polk drew on different forms of inspiration to design the stately structure. It has Stuart and Georgian features and the roof tiles are reminiscent of those used on Spanish missions.

Only the lower floor of the house is open to the public, but that’s enough to keep you very busy. The 43 rooms span 54,000 square feet all told (5,016 square metres) and the lower floor seems to be dedicated mostly to living, entertaining and cooking.

Filoli Mansion Ballroom

The ballroom is the largest room in the house and is also the most elaborately-decorated (from those that are open to the public). Swathed in a pale green that was the favourite colour of the couple’s only daughter Maud, with gilt accents.

The Ballroom at Filoli

Just imagine the concerts, parties, and elaborate balls held in this room.

Bowers Borne II suffered a series of strokes in the years after moving into the estate, which robbed him of the use of his legs.

His worsening condition also took his ability to speak and in an effort to cheer him, his wife and daughter had the ballroom painted with scenes from Muckross.

American artist Ernest Peixotto was well-known for his murals and travel writing and was commissioned to bring Muckross to life at Filoli.

Filoli Ballroom features murals and a huge fireplace

After Bowers Bourne II’s health took a turn for the worse, these paintings of Muckross were commissioned to help cheer him up.

Now look up and take in the crystal chandeliers, that were copied from those that hung in the Palace of Versailles in France.

Both Agnes and William attended the signing of the Peace Treaty in 1919  (ending World War I) at the palace, which the chandeliers were specially made for.

Filoli Mansion Study

Originally built so that William could attend to his many businesses from his home, the study is paneled in dark oak. A walk in safe is concealed to the right of the imposing fireplace, giving the study a little more excitement.

The study at Filoli

The Roths converted the study into a sitting room complete with it’s own wine cellar.

After both William and Maud died in 1936, the house was purchased by Bill and Lurline Roth for themselves and their three teenage children.

The Roths turned the study into a family room and converted the safe into an upstairs wine cellar. Because traipsing all the way downstairs to fetch a bottle probably seemed a little quaint.

Or maybe they just didn’t have as many jewels and treasures to secret away as the Bowers Bourns.

Filoli hidden drinks room

Fancy a sneaky tipple? It’s all hidden away behind some tasteful wood paneling. 

To the left of the fireplace is another hidden door, which conceals a small room complete with sink and refrigerator.

Filoli Mansion Library

As usual (at least in the previous historic homes I’ve visited), the library is one of my favourite rooms. Open and airy, this library doesn’t make you feel completely walled in or encroached on by the books that grace its many shelves.

The library at Filoli

I wouldn’t mind snuggling up in front of a fire with a good book in this room.

Instead, the room is filled with comfortable chairs surrounding a stately fireplace, side tables with large lamps and a work desk.

The walls that don’t feature book cases, have portraits looking down from their perches or are paneled in American Walnut, hiding yet more books behind.

Filoli Mansion Kitchens

That’s not a typo, I counted at least three separate rooms dedicated to food preparation within Filoli and they are enough to make the baker in me very jealous. Over the years chefs from England, Sweden and from San Francisco’s Chinatown presided over the culinary domain of Filoli Mansion.

Filoli kitchen with stove

Presiding over these huge stoves must have been great for a chef’s ego.

The kitchens had to be large though, since the staff sometimes had to prepare three separate meals – one for the children, another for the adults and their guests, and then a third for the rest of the staff on the property. The gardens at Filoli didn’t just take care of themselves.

That’s a lot of cooking no matter how you look at it.

The-kitchen-silver-safe

The kitchen, complete with a walk-in safe for the silver, and no shortage of food prep space.

The original wood fired stove broke down during World War II and was replaced with an electric stove that was supposed to be destined for a cruise ship.

A cold-storage room shared a wall with the dedicated pastry room, where all the breads and pastries were made. I’m making a note to add a pastry room to my home.

There’s another safe in the kitchen, this one was for storing the silver and pewter dinner services. It once housed a 581-piece Tiffany & Co silver service from 1896.

Tour Filoli Gardens

While there is plenty more to see within the house itself, I’ll leave them for you to discover yourself while we move outside to the lavish gardens.

The Bowers Bourns put lots of work into the gardens over 11 years, but Lurline Roth made a mark on them as well. She was a self-taught horticulturalist who loved camellias and could be found out with her 16 gardeners, tending to her blooms.

Filoli Gardens

Formal Filoli Gardens

The garden most likely to make your jaw drop would be Filoli’s formal gardens. Within the hedges, balconies and walls that encircle the formal gardens, is a space where you’ll really be able to mark the progression of the seasons.

Filoli Formal Gardens

Apart from the border hedges, which are a mark of English formal gardens, you’ll find silky wisteria, a myriad of tulip varieties, Lady Banks roses, irises, tree peonies and lilacs.

They surround a rectangular pond and make a colorful foreground for the Christopher Wren-inspired clock and small tower behind it, which now functions as a plant and gift shop.

Filoli walled gardens

Filoli Orchard & Kitchen Garden

Filoli’s orchard spanned 10 acres and featured a collection of rare fruit throughout.

Because Filoli was an estate that often entertained the guests of both the Bowers Bourn and Roth families, it included the orchard and kitchen garden to feed them all.

Filoli

These gardens featured berries, vegetables and green houses among the many fruit trees that were restored after the National Trust took over.

Filoli Orchard

You’ll find plenty of different types of plants in Filoli’s gardens, such as the exotic Chinese tree peonies and European hornbeam trees.

I’ll let the photos do the talking for the gardens since I have a black thumb and wouldn’t do it justice with words.

**Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links. If you purchase something through one of these links you don’t pay a cent more, but I receive a small commission, that is put towards the running of this blog.

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